Thursday, December 18, 2008

Refs Rob Lightning in Shootout

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Lightning have found a myriad of ways to lose this season but in this game, the Bolts deserved a better fate. A terrible call by referee Tim Peel cost Tampa Bay in the shootout as the Bolts fell 2-1 to the Colorado Avalanche. Peele ruled that Lightning goalie Mike Smith threw his stick at Milan Hejduk during his shootout attempt and awarded a goal. Video replays showed that there was no throwing motion, Smith went for the poke check, missed then spun around to try and get his blocker on the shot, as Smith lifted up his blocker, he dropped his stick to the ice and made the save.

The call ruined a terrific performance by Smith, who made 34 saves, some in spectacular fashion to get the Lightning to the shootout. Paul Stastny scored at the 3:46 mark of the 1st period to give Colorado an early 1-0 advantage, the lead would hold until the midway through the second, when Jeff Halpern made his triumphant return to the Lightning line up with a goal. Halpern's offense was sorely missed and as he works himself back into the flow of the game, he'll make a big impact on the Lightning.

Tampa Bay outshot the Avalanche 38-35 and dominated the overtime, with Vinny Lecavalier, Vaclav Prospal, and Martin St. Louis each just missing opportunities to end it. Then came the controversial shoot out where Jussi Jokinen, Wojtek Wolski, and Vincent Lecavalier were stopped on their chances setting up Milan Hejduk's opportunity. Hejduk skated in, deked and fired a shot toward the Lightning goal that Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith saved with his blocker. Hejduk then yelled at the referees that Smith threw his stick, the officials huddled for several minutes, then referee Peel made the call. Mike Smith darted from his goal line screaming at the officials, the Lightning bench exploded in protest. Head coach Rick Tocchet demanded from the officials "Who made the call, who made the call?" and was told by Peel, "Its a consensus of all of us." Tocchet said he asked again, "Who saw him throw the stick at Hejduk?" but no one would take responsibility. Martin St. Louis pointed to the video replay on the jumbotron and shook his head in disgust when told by the referees that it wasn't a reviewable play. With the call made, St. Louis tried his penalty shot, but fired into the pads of Andrew Raycroft and the giddy Avalanche erupted in celebration, causing the frustrated Lightning fans to shower the ice in debris. Definitely not the proudest moment for Lightning fans but their dismay is definitely understandable.

This hockey team needs every victory they can get to have a victory robbed from them is just a travesty of justice. The NHL instituted the shootout as something exciting for the fans, something that would eliminate sister-kissing ties but the fact they don't have the foresight to make something like this reviewable is just ridiculous.

"I guess if you're winning, if you're up in the standings, those calls seem to go your way," Mike Smith lamented to the Sun Sports Network after the game.

If, by some miracle, the Lightning rally but miss the playoffs by one point - this will be a game that will be remembered. If Colorado wins a division or beats out another team for the final playoff spot by 1 point - it will be because of this farce. I don't believe the fix was in, I just believe in what I've always believed, the NHL referees' incompetence.

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